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STARDUST To Catch A Falling Star And Put It In Its Pocket
News story originally written on February 15, 1999

Actually, Stardust will catch comet particles and return them to Earth. The spacecraft, which was launched February 7, 1999, is working fine. It will pass by Comet Wild-2 in 2004.

Comets were formed at the same times as our Solar System. They haven't changed much since the time of formation. Scientists hope to learn more about how our Solar System formed by studying pieces of the comet. Comet Wild-2 was recently knocked out of the Oort Cloud. It is relatively fresh when compared to historical ones such as Halley's Comet.

STARDUST will use a special material called aerogel to collect the comet particles. The aerogel is 1000 times less dense than glass. The particles are only about the size of a grain of salt but they are traveling faster than 9 times the speed of a bullet. They will slow down as they enter the aerogel. The particles caught in the aerogel will be dropped off in a reentry capsule that will parachute to Earth in 2006.

Last modified January 11, 2006 by Randy Russell.

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